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Man-in-the-Middle Attack: What is it & How to Prevent It

Guide to Protect Yourself From Man-in-the-Middle Attack

If you’re an Internet user, you know online attacks are quite prevalent these days, and it’s highly possible that you might also know about this man-in-the-middle attack where a third-party gets into the middle of an on-going connection.

For example, earlier in 2015, a Belgium group successfully stole €6 million by hacking into middle and large-sized European organizations. In this attack, hackers were able to gain access to the organization’s corporate email account and were able to convince clients to send money into it. You can read more about the same from the Europol’s press release, where they discussed that the attack was carried out using malware and other social engineering methods.

Also, this attack is considered as one of the prime examples of the man-in-the-middle attack. Here, the attackers carefully kept track of communications with the clients for detecting and taking overpayment requests made by the organizations.

Now, let’s get into details and understand what’s Man-in-the-Middle attack, how it works, and then, later on, we’ll dig into the different types of MITM attacks and what steps must be taken to prevent it.

What Is Man-in-the-Middle Attack & How Does It Works?

Put simply, a MITM (Man-in-the-Middle) attack is the type of online attack where a hacker gets in between a user and the website they’re visiting. This MITM attack comes in many different ways. For example, a fake banking website may be used for getting login details of the user. Here, that fake banking website comes (in-the-middle) between the two, i.e., the actual banking website and the user.
man-in-the-middle-attack
Attackers who are performing this MITM attack may have various reasons and techniques for implying this MITM attack. However, some of the common ones are like,

  • To steal sensitive information such as credit card numbers, login details.
  • Snooping into private communications or transactions, which may include trading secrets or other valuable information.

Although, one thing common in MITM attack is that an attacker is trying to portrait as someone or a website you trust.

Here Are the Different Types of MITM Attacks

Recent developments have given many benefits to hackers, and executing MITM attack is no different; whether you believe it or not, these days, MITM is not that difficult. Many cheap online tools are available, which can be used by the rookies as well. However, below are some of the commonly seen MITM attacks, which your business most likely comes across, such as Email Hijacking, Wi-Fi Eavesdropping, Session Hijacking.

1. Email Hijacking

As the name implies, Email Hijacking, here, hacker targets email accounts of the organization, especially financial organizations and banking sectors, and sometimes individuals like you and me. Once they get access, they’ll closely monitor the transactions for making their attack more convincing.

For example, they patiently wait, and once they get a chance where the customer is communicating regarding sending money, they’ll spoof the company’s email address by adding their bank details rather than the company’s. That way, the customer will be thinking they’re sending their money to the organization, but in reality, the money is sent to the hacker.

2. Wi-Fi Eavesdropping

The majority of MITM attacks work successfully on Wi-Fi connections. Here, attackers set up a legit looking Wi-Fi connection and wait for users to connect their device with, which is also called as “Evil Twin.” And once someone connects their device, the attacker will gain access to it while further stealing the personal information of all the users who connects to that fake legit-looking Wi-Fi connection. It’s commonly seen in public places such as coffee shops where you might connect your device with their unencrypted Wi-Fi connection.

3. Session Hijacking

Whenever you log into any website, a connection is created between that website and your computer. Here, hackers can take benefit by hijacking your session through the site you’re connected with. One popular technique used by hackers is to steal your browser’s cookies.

If you’re not aware of cookies, it contains small information, which gives you a smooth browsing experience. And, the data stored on that cookie can be your login credentials, online activity, pre-fill forms, and sometimes your location. And, once the attacker gets their hands on your login cookies, it won’t be hard to login into your account.

4. ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) Spoofing

Usually, ARP protocol is used by LAN (Local Area Networks), so this type of attack happens over LAN. However, whenever the user sends an ARP request, the attacker sends back a fake reply. Here, the attacker portraits themselves as a device, for example, a router, which lets them intercept all the internet traffic of the user.

5. Man-in-the-Browser

It’s a type of attack which exploits vulnerabilities of your installed web browser. Some of the common attack vectors that come under it are like Trojan Horses, Java exploits, SQL injection attack, Computer Worms, Browser Add-ons. Usually, it’s used for getting financial information.

For example, whenever you log into your bank account, the malware captures the credentials. Sometimes, malware scripts work behind the scenes, which can even transfer the funds from your account while modifying the transaction receipt so that no one can know about it.

Example of Man-in-the-Middle Attack

The below image is an example of a MITM attack. Here, an attacker gets in-between a server and the client.
middle-in-the-middle-attack-example
Once the hacker gets in-between, they control the communication, such as intercepting the transferred data or injecting their malicious data, files, or other information.

Steps for Preventing Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

MITM attacks can prove very overwhelming as it’s tough to detect, and if it goes unnoticed, it can create hazardous consequences. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t avoid this attack. It’s possible to prevent yourself from being a victim, and below are some of the steps we suggest you go through.

1. Have Strong WEP/WAP Encrypted Access Points

It’s suggested to protect your wireless access points with robust encryption technologies. It’ll help you avoid unwanted users who try to access your network. On the other hand, weak encryption can be attacked by attackers to make their way into your system or begin a man-in-the-middle attack.

2. Strong Login Credentials for Your Routers

Usually, users keep the default login passwords for their routers, which comes along at the time of purchase, and that welcomes the attackers as these default usernames and passwords are readily available on the internet. It’s recommended to change these default passwords of routers as well as Wi-Fi connection to a stronger one. If you don’t change and attackers get to hold onto your connection, they can change your DNS servers with their malicious ones, and worse, they can even infect your router with malicious software.

3. Use Virtual Private Network

Yes, you can use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) provided by respected VPN providers for creating a secured environment to transfer sensitive information within and outside your local area network. It uses key-based encryption technology for providing security as well as anonymity during your session. So, even if someone gets into your shared network, they will not get success in deciphering the traffic which is routed using a VPN.

4. Forced HTTPS

HTTPS connection indeed offers encryption, but that’s also the fact that attackers have found their way to change the HTTPS request into HTTP. So, it’s suggested to implement HTTP Strict Transport Security or HSTS for avoiding such situations. It forces a web browser or app to connect only with HTTPS and block any content which makes use of HTTP as a protocol. Moreover, it also prevents hackers who try to extract information from your browser cookies.

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Summary

In today’s evolving technology, attacks are prevalent; there’s no way you can say that you can avoid it altogether. Though you can take protective measures, so you don’t get yourself in a situation where you can become a victim even if you were able to avoid it. Similarly, MITM attacks can be prevented like any other attack. All you need is a good security measure, and here we’ve suggested some of the best ones which you can use to protect yourself from it.

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